Scythe + Invaders from Afar Expansion
Designed by Jamey Stegmaier | Art by Jakub Rozalski
Published by Stonemaier Games
1-5 Players | 90-115 Minutes
After a the long war, there was an uneasy peace across Europa as eccentric new leaders, empowered by ungodly steam technology began to assert their influence across the land. What remained of the Scots, Clan Albion, entered the fray along with the Nordic Kingdoms of the North, whilst the Rusviet Union encroached upon the land from the East. However none of them could win the hearts of the people like the Crimean Khanate, who was serving the people as he blessed the farms, ending the famine that had wracked the continent after the war. But no one saw what was coming next…
SCYTHE (with INVADERS FROM AFAR expansion)
Scythe is what would happen if a Eurogame (minus the play-a-card-to-take-an-action mechanic) and a dudes-on-a-map game made a beautiful 1920s-meets-steampunk baby that should be boring—because it’s mostly about gathering resources and building stuff—and yet is incredibly fun and interesting as you take control of territories, worry about a battle with someone that probably isn’t coming, and race to gather stuff to build other stuff as you expand your influence across…Europe? Sort of? All of this gathering of goods so you can be the most popular person by being the richest person…just like a student at a Hollywood High School.
In the game of Scythe you are a leader of a great European civilization in an alternate timeline where things went very differently during and after World War I. Apparently some scientist introduced mechanized monstrosities of maniacal mayhem and unleashed them upon the land by giving this technology to all the civilizations. Now, in the aftermath, each nation is seeking to assert their dominance over Europa and win the people’s hearts—mainly by being the wealthiest nation at the end of the game. But you gain the wealth through doing…everything!
During the game, you choose what actions you do each turn with a sort of Euro mechanic where you move your pawn to another action space that you didn’t use the previous turn, and then take the actions assigned to that action square. You’ll be controlling your leader/character, the mechs that make up the military forces of your civilization, and the workers of your society. You will be moving these pieces around the map: seeking to gather resources from territories you control; having interesting encounters with the people of Europa; battling other civilizations that get in your way; seeking technology from the mysterious factory; and trying to build your civilization’s influence, affluence, and assets by controlling the land, having goodies, and accomplishing impressive feats that all result in you getting paid.
You win the game by having the most money at the end of the game, which is achieved through being popular with the people, and achieving certain goals, such as winning battles, secret goals that are random, upgrading your stuff/technology, building all your mechs, recruiting army officers, and more; then there is having area control, and having resources at the end of the game, all multiplied against your popularity. This game is so much fun because it’s dudes-on-a-map meets resource management, with lots of interaction if you choose; or you can just go be a loner and gather stuff. There is so much room to explore gaining points with a constant tension coupled with the potential for sudden, though not unforeseeable turnarounds!
You will have both your character/faction board as well as your “player mat,” which sets what you’re an expert at and will determine what combination of moves are available to you. Everyone has the same 8 possible actions on your board, the same 4 across the top and the same 4 across the bottom, but where they fall and what combination they’re in, as well as how much it costs for you to take the action, is different from player mat to player mat, so the game is never the same twice, because you’re forced into different strategies by the special asymmetric powers of your civilization as well as the economy of your player mat.
Each turn you’ll move your turn marker pawn to a different square on your player mat and take the moves listed from top to bottom, paying costs and gaining goodies. This will include, across the top: moving pieces, producing with workers, gaining military strength and wealth, gaining popularity, and trading for resources; and along the bottom: building mechs, upgrading your technologies, recruiting officers, building special buildings on the map, and getting money.
You move the pawn, do your two or three things, and your turn is over. Quick and easy once you understand what the symbology means. As long as you’ve been planning while the other player(s) are playing, it should only take a minute or two to take your turn. Despite how intimidating the game looks, the rules and turns are actually relatively quick and simple. But don’t be fooled, the depth of strategy and fun are fantastic.
While you could have less interaction with fewer players, the game scales well from 2 players all the way up to a full complement of 7 players. The more people, the more forced interaction (and combat), but even in a two-player game you can go attack. Moving fast to gather resources and get to the factory still makes the less tactical two-player game very interesting. Especially if you decide to get aggressive and spice it up or you both just really decide you want to control the factory, which counts as three territories at the end of the game.
This is a Stonemaier game. It’s amazing! Faction mats and map board are all top notch, recessed boards, with components that go into slots easily, with amazing art! The various card decks are good quality. When I take an encounter card and read the short little story and options to everyone, I always pause and just look at and enjoy the art behind the card like I’m in a museum. The plastic mechs and characters are really fun, with great sculpts that capture the imagination. (My wife really enjoyed painting them, and now they look amazing!) The wooden resources are…fine. The cardboard punch outs for moneys are…also fine.
THE INVADERS FROM AFAR EXPANSION
We have all the expansions, and I recommend them all. But I’m just briefly covering this one in this review because it shows up in this story and these pictures. Invaders from Afar is just two more factions with two more player mats. I really don’t understand why they weren’t part of the base game. They have some new mechanics, in that they lay some things down on the board that give them special rewards, but since their home bases are literally on the base game map, and they’re cool, but not more special than the other factions. They really should have been included in the base game in my opinion. They’re great and I would definitely want to own them so we can play 7-player, and you should fork out the extra cash to own them because they’re just more of the same goodness. Just slightly different factions with slightly different asymmetric powers and more minor variations on the player mats.
THINGS OF NOTE
The encounter cards are fairly simple decisions, but the flavor text is always funny and the artwork, to repeat myself, is AMAZING! Moving your mechs and workers around the board just feels good. This is not a war game, though there can be battles, but there’s something about the race of moving across the map to have encounters or get to the factory that is really satisfying.
The combat system is okay. Basically you have combat points that you can spend (but you’re limited to spending 7 at a time, though you can have up to 16 combat points in your…combat bank?) and then you add 1 combat card—that you’ve gathered through various actions—per mech/character you have in the space, you add the combat card and points your spending together, and that’s your combat score for the battle. You each set your dial and pick your cards secretly under the table and reveal at the same time. The higher number wins, with the aggressor winning ties. Because of how this interacts with the goal of getting 16 military points to place a goal star, this works pretty well because it creates tension when mechs start moving close together, but it’s not a hard core combat system.
LENGTH OF GAME?
The time commitment on Scythe isn’t too bad, but it’s definitely an evening game. My wife and I can play a two player game in an hour and a half, maybe faster depending. The game night pictured here was a 5-player game and a teaching night: only two of us had played before, the other three hadn’t; and even with teaching time, the game would have been over after 2 hours, but they all ganged up on me right as I was about to win and extended it to 3 hours, but a 3 hour game time is more of an exception than a rule. In general I’d say 1 to 2 hours for Scythe, even with larger player counts.
A lot of people are going to be intimidated when they look at this game. But they don’t need to be! The turns are really simple, and everything is clearly marked out. Just explain that people place their pawn in a box and go down the list. I think there are some people that are going to turn up their nose and think that just gathering resources is boring, but we love it. We think it’s fun to calculate what we need to achieve goals as fast as possible and explore to do that, while constantly wondering if there will be a fight
later. Plus we’re constantly looking at each other’s boards going, “Argh, they’re getting their stuff together faster than I am, how I can I get more faster?” It’s a race!
Also, just a practicality you need to be prepared for: you better have a big table. This thing takes over a table. The more people, the more table it takes over.
Again, if you’re looking for a war game, this dudes-on-a-map game ain’t it. I love it, but if war is what you’re after, look elsewhere. Combats are important, game changing even, but they are not the center of attention. In fact, while I’d say it’s not common, you can go a whole game without a combat.
SPEAKING OF COMBAT…
…nobody, especially the Crimeans, foresaw the Saxony Empire, who had been relatively peaceful as they simply explored the lands and passively interacted with the people, would suddenly and viciously begin to rain down violence upon anyone who stood in their way. The Saxons began brutally attacking the Crimeans and then inspired the Rusviets to join in the fray,
until the former military might of the Crimeans was wasted. While this by no means diminished their standing on the continent, it nonetheless bolstered the people to ultimately pledge their loyalty to the Saxons.
In this particular game, I was ahead the WHOLE GAME as the Crimeans, doing great, upgrading, recruiting, building, mechanizing, and all of a sudden it was all out war on me. While it didn’t devastate, it made an opening for the Saxons (played by Rob) to spread out his forces to get lots of area control points, and place his last two stars rapidly after taking out my mechs not once, but twice(1) since the Rusviets (played by Bryan) had managed to cause me to spend all my military points in defending myself. It was a great game played by all! Kevin was a newcomer and tied with me for second playing Clan Albion, David did a great job learning the game and exploring possibilities as the Nordic Kingdoms, and Bryan was an absolute butt (though he did play a great game!). I had a solid win with lots of area control and about to place my 6th star when they just came at me, dwindling my forces, taking my area control (and spreading Rob’s) for him to make a solid win. It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch out
for… (Rob and Kevin both were quiet the whole game, and scored solidly, with Rob taking the win at the last second!)
- Bryan (Rusviet “Pinko Commie, I Hate You Because You Have More Than Me” Red) —38
- Wes (Crimean “Cry Me a River After We All Gang Up You” Yellow) —70
- Rob (Saxony “I’m Quiet But Deadly” Black) —78
- Kevin (Clan Albion “I May Be Scottish, But I’ve More Stuff Than You Thought” Green) —70
- David (Nordic “I’m Going To Stay in My Own Corner” Blue) —28
SO WHAT DO YOU THINK?
In case I didn’t make it clear, we love this game. We think it’s great at all player counts. The ever changing dynamic of different factions mixed with different player mats means your strategy will always have to be slightly different, and if you get the expansions there is endless re-playability. It should be boring: It’s mostly moving guys around and moving your pawn back and forth to gather stuff, and move little blocks around your player mat…and yet it’s delightful and strategic, and I’m always tense and going “Urgh, how can I beat them to getting my goals completed…I need more workers…Oh no, they’ve got mechs and I don’t…are they going to fight me for the factory?…. is she really going to move over for combat?…oh no, I don’t have enough resources to upgrade and recruit! Can I find a way to do both at once?… AAAAAHHH!!!!!!!”
This game will always be in our collection and will come out several times a year. I don’t think I would ever get rid of it, nor do I think I would ever turn down a game as long as we have the length of time it would take to watch a movie available.